Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap has never shied away from setting lofty goals, telling anyone with a microphone, camera or notepad his mission is to win an NFL sack title and break Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5.
One of the keys to any record pursuit is a strong start, and Dunlap sees an opportunity to do exactly that Sunday in New York against a Jets team that is still looking for a starting right tackle.
Neither Ben Ijalana, a sixth-year player who has appeared in seven career games, nor Brent Qvale, who played in 16 games with one start last year as a rookie, established himself in the preseason. And that’s led Jets head coach Todd Bowles to toy with the idea of rotating them every other series against the Bengals.
“It’s not always that effective,” Dunlap said of the platoon strategy. “But you have to go out there and exploit it.”
Dunlap also knows facing different guys could have drawbacks as well.
“It’s easier to study one guy on tape, but now I’m going to take the challenge of making it difficult for them,” Dunlap said. “It’s going to be hard on him, too because he’s not going to get in a good rhythm for the game. There are pros and cons.
“It should be more difficult for them than us,” he added. “So we have to make that happen.”
Dunlap doesn’t just aim high when it comes to his individual goals. He’s setting high standards for a Bengals defense that finished second in the league in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed.
“We want to be the No. 1 defense,” he said. “A lot of people say that, but they don’t have the capability of doing that. I feel like our defense has every opportunity that we need to go be that No. 1 defense. We have to be disciplined enough to go out there and do it.”
Only twice since stats became an official category in 1983 have the Bengals had two players with at least 10 in a season, and both have come during Dunlap’s tenure, including last year when he registered a franchise-record 13.5 and Geno Atkins had 11.
In 2012, Atkins had 12.5 and Michael Johnson added 11.5, while Dunlap added six as the Bengals set a team record with 51.
One of the keys to that season was a deep defensive line that operated on a rotating basis to keep players fresh. Dunlap said he sees that same potential this year with a group of backups that includes Will Clarke, Margus Hunt, DeShawn Williams and Pat Sims.
“Look back in 12 when we had that rotation and what we were able to do,” Dunlap said. “If we get a defense rotating like that and you get that out of your guys, then you’re going to be a top defense.
“Dressing eight or playing seven or eight is going to be one of our strengths this year,” he continued. “I feel like cutting back on those reps for some of our veterans is going to revive and allow us to play with more energy down the stretch.”
There’s one other key stat — the most important one of all, actually — were Dunlap is aiming high:
“We won eight games in a row (last year),” he said. “Why not 16 in a row?”
Injury report: Defensive tackle Pat Sims (Achilles) returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday, while wide receiver James Wright (knee) missed Thursday after being a full participant Wednesday.
Tackle Eric Winston (non-injury related) also sat out Thursday.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (ankle) was limited for the second day in a row, and rookie wide receiver Cody Core was limited with “heat” listed as the cause.
First-round pick William Jackson (pectoral) did rehab work on the side field for the first time since suffering the injury Aug. 1. Tight end Tyler Eifert (ankle) and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) also worked on the rehab field.
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